Paraguay’s Angel Franco may not enjoy the same profile as Tiger Woods but he matched the World No. 1’s bravery when he overcame a painful knee injury to fire a spectacular six under par 66 and storm to the top of the leaderboard after the first round of the Travis Perkins plc Seniors Masters over the Duke’s Course at Woburn.
The Paraguayan Dunhill Cup player carded five birdies and an eagle on the 505-yard par five 11th hole to go into the second round two shots in front of Argentina’s Horacio Carbonetti, Spain’s Juan Quiros and England’s Gordon J. Brand who arrived at Woburn having won last week’s De Vere PGA Seniors Championship at Slaley Hall.
Former Ryder Cup captain Mark James carded a fine three under par 69 to share fifth place with Bob Boyd, Jim Rhodes and John Bland while Italy’s Costantino Rocca and England’s Bob Cameron were tied tenth after two under par rounds of 70.
Franco began the day with birdies on both the par-5 first and fifth and then holed out from ten feet for another birdie on the 177-yard tenth. He chipped in for an eagle on the par-5 11th and gained another shot at the 537-yard par five14th before dropping his only shot of the day on the treacherous 449-yard par five 16th.
“Today I felt a bit like Tiger must have done at the US Open,” joked the 50 year-old from Ascunsion whose younger brother Carlos is a winner on the PGA Tour in the States.
“I went to the physiotherapist this morning but I was really struggling towards the end of the round and at the moment I’m not even sure I will be able to play tomorrow. We’ll just have to wait and see how it goes after I get a bit more treatment.”
Gordon J. Brand was in a much better frame of mind after collecting the €63,460 (£50,000) first place cheque last week in Northumberland and he maintained that sort of form with a four under par 68 which included four birdies in his last six holes.
“I’m on a bit of a roll at the moment,” admitted Brand who played on the 1983 Ryder Cup side and has won four times on the Seniors Tour since turning 50 almost exactly two years ago. Last week’s win gave me a bit of a boost and I played beautifully for most of the round.”
This week’s tournament has attracted one of the strongest fields of the 2008 European Seniors Tour season. Further down the leaderboard current Seniors Tour Order of Merit leader Ian Woosnam shared twelfth place with Gordon Brand Jnr, Peter Mitchell, Jerry Bruner and Philippe Dugeny on 71 but defending champion Carl Mason could only manage a 73 that left him tied for 21st place.
Scotland’s Sam Torrance was even further down the leaderboard after a disappointing opening round of 75. “Back to the drawing board,” said the Scot after returning a card that contained four bogeys and just one birdie on the 440-yard par four 14th hole.
It was not a great day for the other Scots in the field either. The Kent-based Bill Longmuir returned a two over par 74 but Ross Drummond could only manage a 76 and Mike Millar was three shots worse.
It was also a day that John Chillas will want to forget in a hurry. He was sung on the neck by a wasp while carding an eight under par 80. “I don’t think I should have bothered getting up this morning,” he said.
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